Rochelle Williams Is Taking the Lead on Her Career - Penn-Mar

Rochelle Williams Is Taking the Lead on Her Career

Posted on July 10, 2024

A selfie of Rochelle Williams

Only a year into her role as Residential Supervisor with Penn-Mar, Rochelle Williams earned all three Career Ladders DSP certification levels in just over a month.

This past spring, Penn-Mar Residential Supervisor Rochelle Williams took her career to a whole new level – three levels in fact – when she earned her Career Ladders DSP-I, DSP-II and DSP-III certification. She diligently accomplished this in a little over a month.

Originally from King of Prussia in Montgomery County, Pa., Rochelle moved to York last year with her husband and seven children. She has been in the human services field as a Direct Support Professional on and off for the past 20 years, and in this time earned her associate of arts degree from the University of Phoenix, went on to obtain her bachelor’s in business management from Strayer University, and began raising a family.

The impetus to get back into the field came when she settled in York. A neighbor recommended Penn-Mar, and this June marks Rochelle’s first year with the nonprofit. As someone who is always looking to improve herself, and advance in her career, she jumped at the opportunity to enroll in Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders program when she learned about it.

“I wanted to get a better perspective of the work I do as a DSP and how I navigate and lead others in my role as a residential supervisor,” said Rochelle. “I was also attracted to the fact that Career Ladders can help you move within the organization and choose where you want to be.”

Career Ladders

Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders is a person-centered professional development and credentialing program established in 2016 in partnership with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP). Certification through NADSP E-Badge Academy nationally acknowledges DSPs for their exemplary work in supporting people with disabilities. The benefit to DSPs is that they learn to apply best practices and evidence-based skill and knowledge in the workplace.

According to Kelly Baker, Career Ladders Program Coordinator, more than 200 DSPs have participated in the program since its inception, and of those, over 50 have gone on to obtain DSP-III certification. Interest in the program has grown over the years, Kelly said, mostly by word of mouth as team members are eager to share with colleagues their experiences and how much of a benefit the program has been to them.

Career Ladders is part of Penn-Mar’s recruitment and retention strategy to tackle an industry-wide high turnover rate and critical shortage of qualified DSPs. It is funded by the nonprofit’s Michael James Pitts Endowment for the Advancement of Direct Support Professionals, which is generously supported by donors. In addition to the education and certification, participants are awarded performance-based incentive pay upon completion, thanks to this endowment.

“What we’re finding is that once people are certified, even just through the first level, our chances of retaining that team member go up exponentially,” said Kelly, who noted that Penn-Mar retains 90 percent of those who earn their credentials. “We want our team members to be here, to feel valued and recognized for the work they do. Giving them the opportunities to grow and the skill sets to do so through Career Ladders certification really makes them feel like part of the team and part of Penn-Mar.”

Buckling Down

Rochelle likens her approach to the Career Ladders training to how she managed her studies and assignments in college – with discipline. She buckled down, she said, and assigned herself the task of completing a certain amount of work each day. With each completed assignment she was encouraged on to the next. She also took time to help colleagues who were likewise enrolled in the program.

Rochelle was able to complete all three levels in what might be record time because of her motivation and determination to learn as much as she possibly could. She had fun doing it too.

“I really enjoyed going through the program, and wish there was another level beyond DSP III,” Rochelle said with a laugh. “It’s a very good program to go through especially if you have doubt about whether you can work in this field or where you want to go, or if you’re going to be stuck. Going through Career Ladders can show you exactly where you want to be and how far you want to go.”

“Rochelle really took the bull by the horns when she started,” said Kelly, who has been managing Career Ladders since 2019. “She was super motivated and knew that she wanted to progress and go through it. She understood the program’s benefits both personally and professionally.”

For Rochelle, Career Ladders opened up a whole new line of communication. She feels she can effectively communicate better in her role as supervisor and with the individuals she supports.

“I’m able to provide my staff with more tools and opportunities than before that can help them along,” Rochelle said. “I also feel that I’m better able to help give the individuals a voice to express their wants and needs.”

What’s next for Rochelle? She has her sights set on moving up and becoming a trainer, a role in which Kelly can see her shine because of how motivated she is and how inspired she is to share her experience and how it impacted her.

“I think a lot of times that can really hit other DSPs in the heart where it matters, because she’s going through the same trials and tribulations that they are,” Kelly said. “She is seeing success using what she has learned to positively impact people she’s supporting. It’s hard not to be excited about that. She’s been a wonderful advocate!”

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